Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



Rumsfeld sandbagged...let's be proud

It is front page news that some reservists at a Q&A with defense secretary Rumsfeld told him that they were about to move into Iraq without proper armor both for their vehicles and themselves. It has also made headlines that the questions were set up by an imbedded reporter, who did not reveal his part in his own story of the Q&A. [Ed. But, but ... I thought it was going to be a GREAT day when the Army had to hold bake sales to buy equipment.]

NRO's Kerry spot allowed that
I think it was a little shady for Pitts [the reporter] to go to the officer running the question and answer session "and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd," as the reporter put it. That strikes me as too close to stage managing.
Uh, unh! Pitts' activities weren't close to stage-managing; they were stage managing. Not that there is anything much wrong with that, as long as you are up front about it.

But there are two things questionable, not to say wrong, about what Pitts did that being candid doesn’t absolve him of.

First, a soldier about to deploy can make a statement or ask a question about readiness with an authority that a reporter cannot. By the same token, a reporter should be held to a higher standard than the GI. He should have confirmed the accuracy of the statements he makes or implies.

Instead, Pitts got to make accusations and ask loaded questions and put them in the mouths of other people, or even feed them the questions, without having to take responsibility for them. As a situational justification, he says the questions came out of conversations with the troops he was embedded with, and the crowd reaction might have indicated that many in the unit were glad to them see raised with Rumsfeld. But that doesn’t change Pitt's responsibility. One of the assumptions in the questions was that Guard and Reserve units were being deployed with hand-me down equipment. This was a widespread and even predictable rumor among the troops, but it is denied by the command. A reporter is or should be expected to have investigated.

Second, the dramatic impact of a question--which is to say the "newsworthiness"--doesn’t just depend on the facts implied or assumed ("have you stopped beating your wife?"). It also depends on the relationship of questioner and answerer, because that relationship affects both the tone and content of the answer. Rumsfeld can answer a reporter's accusation much more objectively than he can answer the same accusation from a soldier. When a reporter says "I've been told that the Reserves get substandard equipment and the Regular army gets first-rate stuff", the answer can address the substance; Rumsfeld can just say "you were misinformed" or “we are dealing with that”. When a soldier says it, there is a personal, emotional aspect. Rumsfeld's answer to be effective must address the emotional aspect as well as the factual aspect. If nothing else, it makes it harder to communicate the facts.

In effect, Rumsfeld was sandbagged. He's a grown-up and has little to complain about, but that doesn't change the sleaziness of the manipulative sandbagger's behavior.

I'm glad to see the question raised, though I think Rumsfeld nailed it when he said you go to war with the Army you have. I also think it reveals a bit of a hangdog, miss-ish, whiney character to be complaining that they had to scrounge reinforcements to their vehicles. In my day (Vietnam), we scrounged and improvised, and we laughed and were proud of it!

The initiative shown by the troops and the fact that US soldiers can ask these kinds of questions to the top man in the chain of command are both things to be proud of. I notice that so far the politicians haven't jumped on this story. Probably because they know that a good part of the problem is that they have larded military procurement in pork fat and tied it up tight in red tape.

UPDATE: M0nday--I wish I had put it in writing last Friday, but I'm not surprised this has been pretty much a single news cycle story. Anyway, by friday evening the Kerry Spot had come around to what I wrote here in the morning.



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